Effect of liver transplantation on islet allografts: up-regulation of Fas ligand and apoptosis of T lymphocytes are associated with islet graft tolerance

X Y Wang, J Sun, C Wang, M France, A G Sheil
Transplantation 2001 January 15, 71 (1): 102-11

BACKGROUND: Liver allografts in spontaneously tolerant strain combinations can protect other organs of the same donor origin from rejection and reverse ongoing rejection in previously placed grafts. The aims of this study were to examine whether liver allografts have the same protective effect on islet allografts and to investigate the underlying mechanisms.

METHODS: PVG islets were transplanted beneath the kidney capsule of streptozotocin-induced diabetic DA rats with or without liver allografting. The cellular infiltrate, and the extent of apoptosis and of Fas ligand (FasL) expression in the islet grafts were evaluated on days 2, 4, and 7 after transplantation by means of immunostaining and the in situ terminal deoxynucleotide transferase-mediated dUTP nick end labeling assay. Donor and recipient mixed lymphocyte reactions (MLR) were determined at 7 days or 100 days after islet transplantation.

RESULTS: Islet allografts transplanted alone were rapidly rejected within 5-8 days. Rejection was delayed, but not prevented, when islets were transplanted simultaneously with the liver. Liver transplantation 1 month before islet transplantation resulted in long-term survival (>100 days) of islet grafts in three of seven animals, whereas the other four died of liver rejection with functional islet grafts. Liver transplantation on day 4 after islet grafting reversed ongoing islet rejection and led to indefinite islet graft survival in three of seven cases. There was a progressive increase of cellular infiltration in all of the islet allografts, but the intensity of the infiltrate did not correlate with the outcome of the islet allografts. Islet rejection was characterized by an early dominance of monocytes/macrophages and CD25+ T cells in the infiltrates, a high incidence of apoptotic beta cells in grafts, and a sensitized status in the MLR. Tolerance of islet allografts was associated with increased numbers of dendritic cells in the graft infiltrates, up-regulation of FasL, and prominent apoptosis of alloreactive leukocytes in the islet grafts, as well as donor-specific MLR suppression in long-term survivors.

CONCLUSIONS: These results demonstrate that the extent of the protective effect of liver transplantation on islet allografts varies with the time of liver grafting, ranging from delay in islet rejection to complete islet acceptance. Islet graft tolerance induced by liver transplantation is the result of an immune process that involves up-regulation of Fas ligand expression on, and apoptosis of, islet graft infiltrating lymphocytes.

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